Pablo Picasso, Bruce Chatwin and Ernest Hemingway are among the cultural luminaries always cited as fans of the humble notebook. And sales have boomed in recent years as it has become little short of ubiquitous in briefcases, on boardroom tables, in coffee shops, on desks, trains, planes; everywhere. What am I talking about? Why, the trusty Moleskine notebook of course. And it’s not so humble after all: the company is launching an IPO in a bid to raise over €300m. It seems there is a good environment for luxury brands in post-crisis Italy after all.
Moleskine has mastered the art of marketing itself as the stuff of legend despite only existing since 1997, when an Italian publishing house created the brand. Having long since sold on to a private-equity firm, one could argue the romance has already evaporated, leaving the notebooks as far from the musings of a wandering Bruce or the instinctive scrawlings of a Pablo as tappings on the latest tablet.
And that is maybe the enduring fascination here. Counter-intuitively, the paper notebook has retained and indeed grown its popularity among the tech-savvy. It’s the antidote to the digitisation of our media. The progression of these forms of personal record keeping is of particular interest to champions of paper.
In the 1980s the Filofax was king. It was the embodiment of its age: all about personal organisation, it was designed for business; it told the world its owner was supposedly going places.
Now it’s much more about personal expression and insight. Writing in a notebook with pen or pencil seems to imbue the very words or pictures with that bit more emotion. Want to know what someone is thinking? Then look at what they are writing. Of course, there is a fair-to-middling chance that present-day devotees of the Moleskine notebook are merely hoping a little of the stellar authorial lustre of the past might rub off on them.
And what of the latest cutting-edge rivals to the written word? There are a range of new apps that promise you’ll never lose a note or thought again. I’m unconvinced. The idea that I’ll never need to remember anything summons an image of a ghastly, dystopian future; memories erased, instincts nullified. Now, as things turn full circle, Moleskine has a new line with specially formatted pages so that you can even back up your paper writings to “the cloud”.
I wonder what Hemingway would have written in his notebook about that.
Tom Edwards is news editor for Monocle